On November 1, 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced its plan to issue what will be only the second programmatic eagle take permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) permit program since the program’s establishment in 2009. Programmatic permits may be sought to authorize eagle take that is associated with, but is not the purpose of, an activity if such take is compatible with the preservation of the bald eagle and the golden eagle and if the take is unavoidable even though advanced conservation practices are being implemented.
Alta East Wind Project (Alta East) is a 137-megawatt, 48-turbine facility operating in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area in Kern County, California. Alta East’s holding company filed an application for a five-year programmatic eagle take permit for golden eagles in March 2013 that included a detailed Eagle Conservation Plan (ECP) developed in accordance with the Service’s Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance that is applicable specifically to wind energy facilities. The ECP details the impacts of the operation of Alta East on golden eagles and how these adverse effects will be avoided, minimized, and mitigated to a point where there is no net loss of the protected species. Alta East also developed a Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy (BBCS), pursuant to the Service’s Wind Energy Guidelines, that outlined additional measures to avoid or minimize potential impacts on eagles and other migratory birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) as well as bats. Additionally, when construction of Alta East was approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2013, the biological opinion associated with the approval included an incidental take statement from the Service authorizing the take of one endangered California condor over the 30-year life of the facility.
The Service’s proposed issuance of the Alta East programmatic eagle permit required analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and having reached a Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) in the final Environmental Assessment (EA), the Service will issue the permit after 30 days, authorizing the incidental take of three golden eagles over a five-year period.
In May 2016, the Service proposed significant revisions to the programmatic eagle take permitting program. The proposed rule is currently under review at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) prior to finalization.